Monday, November 21, 2016

A Failure to Communicate

Hollywood loves alien movies, be it the apocalyptic mayhem of a full blown invasion from outer space or the idea that aliens are harmless and virtually everything in between.  From ‘War of the Worlds’ to ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ to ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ aliens have been portrayed as brutal conquerors to sinister infiltrators to benevolent beings who just needed our help to go home (not just ‘ET’ but ‘Starman’ and ‘Paul’).  Just when you think you’ve seen them all, along comes ‘Arrival,’ French-Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve’s fascinating and rather introspective look at how we might realistically react and behave in a “First Contact” scenario.
Based on Ted Chiang’s Nebula Award-winning novella “Story of Your Life,” ‘Arrival’ centers on linguistic professor Dr. Louise Banks’ (Amy Adams) attempt to communicate with “Abbot” and “Costello,” two Heptapod alien creatures whose highly advanced giant elliptical spaceship hovered above the plains of Montana.  Along with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), she was tasked by the US government to determine what the aliens want.   The simplicity of the question belies its very complexity in execution, as Louise and Ian try to decipher the aliens’ highly complex and enigmatic written language and come up with a way to effectively communicate with them.
If you’re expecting the typical dumbed-down alien fare we’ve seen all too often from Hollywood, you will no doubt be disappointed.  Quiet and poignant in tone, ‘Arrival’ is a hard sci-fi film that’s cerebral and deep, delving not only into the scientific but also the metaphysical.  Like 1997’s ‘Contact,’ ‘Arrival’ seeks to answer some of our most pressing questions through the personal experience and journey of its main protagonist as opposed to simply provide mindless entertainment.

Grade: A 
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